Oh Sleep….you can be so elusive!
Did you know? 35% of Americans don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep each night and roughly 20% of Americans have a sleep disorder. After years of research, the case can now be confidently made that sleep loss and sleep disorders have profound effects on human health such as: mortality, morbidity, performance, accidents and injuries, functioning and quality of life, and family well-being.
According to recent statistics, sleep deprivation also costs the US $411 billion dollars annually. A worldwide research project conducted by Rand Europe found that tired or absent employees had a huge impact on the economy of a country. In addition, poor sleep is considered equal to binge drinking and marijuana use in terms of its impact on academic performance.
Sleep loss and sleep disorders are among the most common yet frequently overlooked and readily treatable health problems today!
In this article, I am going to touch on causes for sleep loss- sleep disorders – negative impacts of sleep loss – and of course, ways on how to sleep better!
WHAT IS SLEEP?
Sleep is when the nervous system is relatively inactive, the eyes closed, the postural muscles relaxed, and consciousness is practically suspended. During normal sleep, you cycle through REM and four stages of non-REM (NREM) sleep numerous times a night. Stage 1 of NREM sleep is the lightest, while stage 4 is the deepest.
NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF LACK OF SLEEP
1. Weight gain – sleep loss is linked to obesity – causing an increase in appetite and carbohydrate cravings
2. Depression – Sleep-deprived people are more likely to report increased feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, powerlessness, failure, low self-esteem, poor job performance, conflicts with coworkers, and reduced quality of life.
3. Irritability– Studies show people who are sleep deprived report increases in negative moods (anger, frustration, irritability, sadness) and decreases in positive moods. And sleeplessness is often a symptom of mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety.
4. Cognition impairment – Sleep loss alters normal functioning of attention (including reaction time) and disrupts the ability to focus on environmental sensory input – playing a significant role in tragic accidents involving heavy machinery. It can also cause clumsiness making you at greater risk for accidents and injuries.
5. Increased risk for cardiovascular disease – Sleep helps the heart vessels to heal and rebuild as well as affecting processes that maintain blood pressure and sugar levels as well as inflammation control.
6. Increased risk of diabetes and impaired glucose tolerance – Sleep deprivation causes the release of insulin, which leads to increased fat storage and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
7. Fatigue – lack of quality sleep can cause fatigue, a lingering tiredness that is constant and limiting. With fatigue, you have unexplained, persistent, and relapsing exhaustion.
8. Forgetfulness – researchers found that during sleep important brain waves are produced which play a vital role in storing memories. The brain waves transfer memories from a part of the brain called the hippo-campus to the prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain where long term memories are stored. Poor quality sleep in adults causes memories to stay stuck in the hippo-campus and not reach the prefrontal cortex. This results in forgetfulness and difficulty remembering names
9. Reduced sex drive – Insufficient sleep can affect hormone production, including growth hormones and testosterone in men.
10. Weaker immunity – Not getting enough sleep prevents the body from strengthening the immune system and producing more cytokines to fight infection. This can mean a person can take longer to recover from illness as well as having an increased risk of chronic illness.
11. Poor impulse control – Being sleep-deprived for days is close to being drunk, so it’s not surprising that not getting enough sleep makes you more impulsive and clouds your judgment.
CAUSES FOR SLEEP LOSS
The causes of sleep loss can be due to many factors and typically fall under two main categories: lifestyle/occupational (i.e., night shift work, prolonged working hours, jet lag, irregular sleep schedules), and sleep disorders (i.e., insomnia, sleep-disordered breathing, RLS, narcolepsy, and circadian rhythm disorders).
Currently there are at least 90 noted sleep disorders. Approximately 2 out of every 10 people suffer from a sleeping disorder. It is estimated that 50 to 70 million Americans chronically suffer from a disorder of sleep and wakefulness, hindering daily functioning and adversely affecting health and longevity. Some of the most common of these disorders include:
*Insomnia – chronic trouble getting to sleep.
*Sleep Apnea – occurs when the upper airway becomes completely or partially blocked, interrupting regular breathing for short periods of time — which then wakes you up.
*Restless leg syndrome – In people who have restless legs syndrome, discomfort in the legs and feet peaks during the evening and night. They feel an urge to move their legs and feet to get temporary relief, often with excessive, rhythmic, or cyclic leg movements during sleep.
*Rem sleep behavior disorder – For most people, dreaming is purely a “mental” activity: dreams occur in the mind while the body is at rest. But people who suffer from REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) act out their dreams. They physically move limbs or even get up and engage in activities associated with waking. Some engage in sleep talking, shouting, screaming, hitting or punching.
*Narcolepsy – Narcolepsy is a brain disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness. There is sometimes a genetic component, but most patients have no family history of the problem. Though dramatic and uncontrolled “sleep attacks” have been the best-known feature of narcolepsy, in reality many patients do not have sleep attacks. Instead, they experience constant sleepiness during the day.
OTHER FACTORS THAT CAN CAUSE LACK OF SLEEP
Aside from sleep disorders, there could be other factors at play causing you to lose those Zz’s!
*Medications – Many over the counter and prescription drugs can disturb sleep. If you feel this may be the case, talk to your doctor. There may be other options for you.
*Occupational – do you travel a lot? Jet lag can cause disruptions in your circadian rhythm. In addition, the night shift can be detrimental to your overall health affecting more than just your sleep.
*Pain – those with acute or chronic pain are more likely to have sleep problems impact their daily lives. People with pain are also far more apt than others to report that lack of sleep interferes with their mood, activities, relationships and enjoyment of life overall. They also tend to feel less control over their sleep, worry more about lack of sleep affecting their health and exhibit greater sleep sensitivity.
*Use of caffeine or other stimulants during the day make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. It is recommended to stop caffeine consumption 4-6 hours prior to bed time.
*Alcohol consumption which causes drowsiness but restless sleep. It is recommended to avoid it’s consumption, especially in the evening.
*Stress – Day to day living can be stressful. This can interfere with sleep. Give yourself a chance to relax and unwind before going to bed. Look at ways to make your life less stressful.
*Other medical conditions and pregnancy – There are many other things that can disturb sleep. It could be a medical condition such as asthma or overactive bladder. Or it could be something psychological. The key here is find the causes and deal with them. Pregnancy can disturb for your sleep, especially in the final months. Leg cramps, discomfort in the chest and having to go to the toilet often all play a part in this.
*Snoring – Many adults snore. The noise is produced when the air you inhale rattles over the relaxed tissues of the throat. Snoring can be a problem simply because of the noise it causes. It may also be a marker of a more serious sleep problem called sleep apnea.
*Nightmares – frightening dreams that arise during REM sleep. They can be caused by stress, anxiety, and some drugs. Often, there is no clear cause.
*Night terrors and sleepwalking – Both night terrors and sleepwalking arise during NREM sleep and occur most often in children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old.
*Bad Mattress – A mattress that’s old or worn out can do more than leave you tossing and turning throughout the night. A good mattress can give you years of comfortable sleep—but there’s no magic number as to exactly how many. Typically, manufacturers recommend replacing your mattress every eight years. But according to Consumer Reports, a mattress that’s well cared for could easily last a decade.
*Bad Pillow – a bad pillow can cause neck pain, stiffness or headaches. A good pillow will support your head in natural alignment with your spine. Pay attention to the alignment of your spine in finding the correct pillow for your preferred sleeping position.
HOW MUCH SLEEP SHOULD I GET?
Experts recommend the following amounts of sleep per age group:
-Infants 4-12 months: 12 – 16 hours (including naps)
-Child 1 – 2 years: 11 – 14 hours (including naps)
-Child 3 – 5 years: 10 – 13 hours (including naps)
-Child 6 – 12 years: 9 – 12 hours
-Teenager: 8 – 10 hours
-Adult: 7 – 9 hours
WAYS ON HOW TO SLEEP BETTER
1. Sleeping position – Your sleeping pose can have a major impact on your slumber—as well as your overall health. Poor sleep posture could potentially cause back and neck pain, fatigue, sleep apnea, muscle cramping, impaired circulation, headaches, heartburn, tummy troubles, and even premature wrinkles.
2. Temperature Adjustment– A mild drop in temperature can help induce sleep. If your room is too hot or too cold you are more likely to wake up.
3. Humidity – High humidity makes it more difficult for moisture to evaporate off your body, which can make you hot and uncomfortable (not to mention sweaty!). … But comfort isn’t the only issue: High humidity can also encourage mold growth, which may affect your sleep if you suffer from mold allergies. Low humidity can cause excessive dryness, nose bleeds and uncomfortably hard boogers!
4. Light or lack there-of – Darkness is essential to sleep. The absence of light sends a critical signal to the body that it is time to rest. Light exposure at the wrong times alters the body’s internal “sleep clock”—the biological mechanism that regulates sleep-wake cycles—in ways that interfere with both the quantity and quality of sleep. In addition, fans of bedtime scrolling are actually impacting their sleep. The blue light emitted by technology inhibits the secretion of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep
5. Sound Reduction– Sounds that are trivial during the day can become bothersome at night, especially when they are abrupt. Even if you don’t fully wake up, noises can arouse you slightly and affect sleep cycles. Using things like ear plugs or soundproofing your room can help.
6. Adjusting for co-sleeping – a lot of times, having someone sharing the bed with you can cause many complications – especially if you are hyper sensitive to noise, motion etc. One person may like a softer bed while the other prefers firmer. The same applies to temperature – one may like it cooler than the other. In addition, one may want to read with the light on when you are ready for bed. If you want to try to make it work, you will need to make modifications to adjust for co-sleeping such as a mattress that can adjust it’s firmness setting (like the sleep number), wear ear plugs, eye mask as needed etc. Sometimes, a ‘sleep divorce’ might be the answer if having someone in the same bed is too disruptive.
7. Medication – When non-medicinal treatment is not effective, drugs are available that can help induce sleep. Some are available over-the-counter (OTC), and some are only available with a valid prescription. There is a wide range of available options, including benzodiazepines, non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, and melatonin receptor antagonists. However, some people form a dependency on sleeping medications. It is important to limit the dosage and try to use non-medicinal measures where possible.
8. Sleep Study – Sleep specialists can also identify a pattern using a polysomnogram, or sleep study. This is carried out in a sleep laboratory. Electrodes are placed at various points on the body, including the scalp and face. The person with suspected sleep deprivation will sleep overnight at a sleep clinic, and these monitors will measure breathing, blood, heart rate and rhythm, muscle activity, and brain and eye movements during sleep.
9. Behavioral and cognitive treatments –
- Relaxation techniques: Progressive muscle relaxation involving tensing and un-tensing different muscles in the body to help calm the body. Meditation techniques, mindfulness training, breathing exercises, and guided imagery can also help in this area. Audio recordings are available that can help a person fall asleep at night.
- Stimulation control: This involves controlling pre-bedtime activities and surroundings to moderate the sleeping pattern. For example, a person controlling their stimulus would spend time in bed only when they feel sleepy, which controls the association between being in bed and feeling ready to sleep.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a type of therapy designed to help people understand and change the thought patterns behind certain behaviors. It can challenge beliefs that may not be healthy and promote rational, positive thought. CBT can help a person to develop a healthier sleeping pattern.
10. Getting enough physical exercise during the day – Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep. Exercise may also reduce insomnia by decreasing arousal, anxiety and depressive symptoms.
11. Limiting EMF exposure – Studies show that exposures to EMFs can impede the production of melatonin and affect the body’s circadian rhythm. EMF exposures in the bedroom can undermine sleep cycles and cause many ailments and symptoms such as: Irritation of allergies. Tiredness upon awakening.
12. Avoiding eating certain foods 2 to 3 hours before bed -Eating too close to bedtime can cause heartburn and discomfort in the chest. Avoid late meals. Any snack before bedtime should be small and light. Try to limit your fluids before bedtime also so that you don’t have to get up to go to the toilet during the night.
13. Keeping a routine – going to bed and waking up at the same time every night can help your body’s internal clock, a.k.a. your circadian rhythm which plays a key role in regulating your sleep-wake cycle.
14. Stretching – deep stretching helps your muscles relax and keeps your muscles flexible so you’re less apt to experience discomfort or workout-related injuries.
15. Hot Tea – certain tea’s can help soothe and relax you and promote good sleep. The three top teas for sleep are chamomile, Valerian root and lavender.
16. Essential Oils – whether it’s sheet spray or you are diffusing essential oils – some oils can help induce and promote good sleep. The most popular oil for sleep is Lavender. Be aware though – some essential oils can be harmful to your pets.
17. Hot bath – the heat from a hot bath can naturally relax and soothe muscles and melt away stress. In addition, when you take a warm bath, your temperature naturally rises, and the cool-down period immediately after is actually what relaxes you and helps to induce sleep.
18. Hypnosis – although somewhat controversial – hypnotherapy has the potential to help you sleep better and wake up more refreshed. However, it doesn’t work on everyone. About a quarter of people, simply can’t be hypnotized.
THE TAKE AWAY
Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. If you are getting less than 6 hours of solid sleep at night, you most likely are suffering from sleep loss or a sleep disorder and it is most likely negatively impacting your life in some way. If you found yourself on this page it’s most likely because you are seeking answers and help to this problem. You are not a lone! I pray this information helps you. If you want to share your struggles with sleep or have other helpful tips for my readers, please comment below!